Breath of death in poison air
Traffic pays for President and price protests
Mataram clones strike the wrong chord
Fish net cast for Victoria funds
Control and confidence
Doorstep garbage drive for east fringe
Soren to stake claim for Vananchal CM’s post
Man stabs infant son in Tripura
Tripura caught in a time warp
Hunt on to track down jail escapees

 
 
BREATH OF DEATH IN POISON AIR 
 
 
BY SAHELI MITRA AND KUNAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, March 23 
The city is perilously close to choking point. Our lungs are bleeding, more than 40 per cent of children are suffering from respiratory distress syndrome, more than 14 per cent of cancer patients are victims of lung cancer, about 11.4 per cent deaths in the city every year is due to respiratory disorder. And things are getting worse by the day.

These are some of the findings of a study conducted by Chittaranjan National Cancer Research Institute, Calcutta, and the Environmental Biology Department of Calcutta University, which has won the ‘best research work’ award from the Central Pollution Control Board of New Delhi.

The first study of its kind in the country reveals how the Calcuttan, constantly exposed to highly toxic pollutants, is increasingly falling prey to respiratory disorders like bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung and skin cancer.

The tests carried out by the team of scientists were simple, sensitive and cost-effective. Sputum samples were collected from more than 1,125 individuals, from a wide range of socio-economic background, different occupations and different age-groups, over a period of four years and their alveolar macrophage (AM) count tabulated. AM cells act as a defensive wall against the pollutants inhaled and like the WBC in blood, their numbers increase when a germ infects the system.

The AM count is highest during winter and least in the monsoon months. North Calcutta is worst-affected, with east and central close behind. While samples from Bhowanipore, Ballygunge and Behala had a macrophage count of 18.8/hpf (high-power field), those from Shyambazar, Moulali and BBD Bag had a macrophage count of 30.5/hpf.

Drivers, students and traffic policemen topped the AM count list in terms of occupation, while “the outdoors” age-groups of 31-40 and 21-30 were found to be the worst affected.

“Till now, we knew that the city’s air was laden with deadly pollutants like carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, lead, sulphur and polycyclic hydrocarbons at a concentration much higher than most other cities in India, but we didn’t bother to find out what exactly these pollutants are doing to our lungs,” says Dr Twisha Lahiri of the Cancer Institute.

“An extremely distressing result of our studies was the presence of iron particles in the lungs, that can only be seen if the lungs are bleeding,” says Dr Manas Roy, head of Experimental Haematology of Cancer Institute.

Similar studies were conducted simultaneously in the Sunderbans, 100 km south of Calcutta.

The comparative study was alarming, with the average AM count in the city being 22.7/hpf, as opposed to 2.8/hpf in the Sunderbans.

Those involved in the study have suggested that these tests be taken up by the state health department to carry out a mass-screening programme which will help identify high-risk groups and enable early detection of diseases like lung cancer.    


 
 
TRAFFIC PAYS FOR PRESIDENT AND PRICE PROTESTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 23 
The hike in LPG and kerosene prices was added to the list of reasons to hold public protests in the city on Thursday.

Several student and political organisations took to the streets — some opposing the “imperial” US President’s visit to the country, some protesting the price rise, and others voicing their anger over both — throwing traffic out of gear in the central, southern and eastern parts of the city.

Youth Congress supporters, angry over “the hike in the prices of cooking gas and other essentials”, blocked Hazra Road at around 1.30 pm. This hit south Calcutta’s traffic the hardest.

Activists of DSO, the students’ wing of the SUCI, held a demonstration on Rani Rashmoni Road from 2 pm, and burnt an effigy of Clinton. The DSO demonstration turned the Maidan areas into one big traffic snarl.

Communist Organisation Of India (Marxist-Leninist) workers marched from College Square to the American Center on Jawaharlal Nehru Road, bringing traffic to a standstill in central Calcutta. The Naxalite group was protesting Bill Clinton’s visit.

Another Naxalite outfit, the CPI(M-L), organised a rally from Sealdah which ended at Ho Chi Minh Sarani for the same reason.

SFI supporters blocked the Sealdah flyover, opposing both Clinton’s visit and the price increase. Members of the students’ organisation from Surendra Nath College blocked B.B. Ganguly Street on similar grounds.

Even as unauthorised blockades were put up at important crossings for reasons political and economic, another protest at the busy Ultadanga junction jammed roads for more than an hour.

Here, it was state transport workers who stopped all traffic near the Hudco building to protest the assault on one of their colleagues, Babulal Singh, by auto-rickshaw operators following a collision between the bus and a three-wheeler, in which no one person was injured.    


 
 
MATARAM CLONES STRIKE THE WRONG CHORD 
 
 
BY PRONAB MONDAL
 
Calcutta, March 23 
Pained at free-style renditions of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Vande Mataram, especially by music director A.R. Rahman, Bankim scholars now want the tune to be standardised.

In making such a demand, the scholars are following a trend set by Visva-Bharati, which insists, sometimes overzealously, that all performances of Tagore’s works conform to standards set by it.

Researchers at the Bankim Bhaban Gabeshana Kendra, a government-aided centre on the 19th century litterateur, are now working on an “acceptable” tune for his ode to the motherland.

Vande Mataram is sung by students in many schools. But there are reports that students are often confused about the tune. “Like in most other schools, we sing Vande Mataram on Republic Day and Independence Day. We don’t use it in the prayer hall because it is essentially a patriotic song,” said Priti Mondal, headmistress of Alipore Multipurpose Girls’ School.

Sudip Goswami, headmaster of Bagbazar High School, said: “We do not want to distort the song. So, we sing Jana Gana Mana because it is simpler.” Goswami was strongly against changes in the tune of Vande Mataram.

It was probably Rabindranath Tagore who first set to music Vande Mataram, a source of inspiration to freedom fighters in the British era. Bankim’s lyric has been sung by artistes like M.S. Subbulakshmi and Lata Mangeshkar.

Scholars in the Kendra are annoyed by Rahman’s version, which they find too loud and heavily influenced by rock ‘n’ roll.

“We will definitely consider a proposal (to standardise the tune) when we receive it from the Kendra,” said Arun Bhattacharya, information and cultural affairs secretary. The Kendra is located at Bankim Chandra’s ancestral home at Naihati, in North 24-Parganas. Its researchers are writing notations for Vande Mataram, which they insist must be followed universally.

“A host of singers hase sung Vande Mataram in different tunes based on different ragas, tal and laya, progressively digressing from the one structured by Tagore. We now want to give it a definite shape. It may be largely based on Tagore’s tune or we may come up with something different,” said Satyajit Chowdhury, Kendra director.

Rabindrasangeet exponents Dwijen Mukherjee and Srikumar Chatterjee welcomed the Kendra’s move. “Playing around with the tune set by Tagore is not right. People are forgetting the original,” said Mukherjee, adviser to the Visva-Bharati’s music board.

Documents on Vande Mataram, collected by the researchers, bear out that Tagore’s version was based on the Desh raga.    


 
 
FISH NET CAST FOR VICTORIA FUNDS 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, March 23 
The Victoria Memorial Hall authorities will chlorinate and clean its ponds with the money they hope to make by selling fish grown there.

According to Chittaranjan Panda, secretary and curator of Victoria Memorial, a joint committee, consisting of representatives drawn from all sections of workers of the memorial, will decide on the date and time for cleaning the ponds.

The committee will also supervise the selling of fish in one corner of the gardens.

“Victoria Memorial is starved of funds. It is our priority to keep the ponds clean and to chlorinate them. To even up the cost of cleaning, we have decided to sell the fish being cultivated there among the garden staff at a price lower than the market rate,’’ Panda said.

“The committee will sit at the end of this month to decide on the date and time. The Memorial authorities will hire labourers to carry out the job of catching the fish and cleaning the pond. The exercise is expected to start in the first week of April,’’ he added.

A member of the joint committee said it would cost Rs 7,000 to clean and chlorinate the pond. “The fish will be sold at the rate of Rs 35 a kg. It will fetch the Memorial around Rs 7,000, which will cover the expenditure,’’ he said. There are several hundred kg of fish in the ponds.

The Victoria Memorial authorities have given the permission to sell 200 kg of fish, mostly of the tilapia variety.

“There are puti, katla, and other varieties of river fish too. But those will be left untouched,’’ a senior Victoria Memorial official said.

Two days will be required to clean and chlorinate the ponds, covering 18 acres. The water will neither be replaced nor drawn out of the ponds. Fifty labourers, expert at gathering garbage from the bottom of ponds and also at catching fish, will be hired.

Asked why the water will not be replaced, Panda said that would disturb the ecological balance of the ponds. The water, which looks green now, will turn sky blue once the clean-up is complete.

Sources said there is a ban on pisciculture at Victoria Memorial. “Fish put inside the ponds some time ago have multiplied,’’ an officer said.

The Archaeological Survey of India will shortly undertake repairs of the cemented portion of the ponds since cracks have developed at several points. An undisclosed sum has been paid to the ASI for undertaking repairs.    


 
 
CONTROL AND CONFIDENCE 
 
 
BY ANANDA KAMAL SEN
 
Calcutta, March 23 
An art show with sachets stuffed with condoms, cellphones, spooled-out cassettes and time-pieces. No soul-scorching stuff, but it does pack a sociological punch — the pragmatic with the aesthetic.

If innovation is the name of the game, Shombit Sen Gupta’s solo exhibition at Calcutta Information Centre could be a modern original.

“These are essential elements to survive today’s world,” the artist told The Telegraph. “I put in the condoms because I felt it my artistic responsibility to tell people to use them because of the AIDS menace.”

In the yellow, half-diffused light of the gallery, the impression that sinks in after a quick recce is of an artist bold enough to experiment and confident of getting away with this strangely paradoxical fusion of technie art and traditional brush-to-canvas artistry.

Still, that’s half the story. Born in a refugee colony of West Bengal, the 46-year-old painter is also one of the most sought-after corporate designers in both Europe and India. His company, Shining Strategic Identity, employs 60 people of different nationalities and boasts of celebrity clients like Wipro chief Azim Premji and a host of other multinationals, like Procter and Gamble, UniLever, Reckitt and Coleman and Lakme.

The influence of design is evident from the few self-propelling guidelines inscribed on the back of the visiting cards of his employees.

But ask the artist, and he would say the influence worked the other way. “I can’t do strategic planning if I don’t have the paintings in my pocket,” he says.

It was painting that started off his rags-to-riches tale. Sen Gupta was only 19 when he arrived in Paris with a portfolio of his works from Calcutta’s Government College of Arts.

The move paid off, with France providing the creative kickstart. The initial years of struggle in an alien land toughened him. His art, controlled and explosive, reflects that.

Even in a work like Mother Teresa’s Infinity Heart, the dark-blue sketch of the heart ricochets off the blue-white background of the nun’s habit.

But it’s the recurring image of the horse that runs like a searing leitmotif. Sen Gupta says if one can “capture” the essence of the horse, “one can draw anything”. So, is the horse the symbol of his energy?

Could be. When, early in life, Sen Gupta had taken a leap into the unknown, this equine energy must have provided the first impetus. And helped him reach where he is now — a Bengali from Paris and a Parisian from Calcutta.    


 
 
DOORSTEP GARBAGE DRIVE FOR EAST FRINGE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 23 
With a little over two months to go for the civic polls, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) is out to woo the newly-settled residents on the city’s eastern fringes by starting a door-to-door garbage collection programme.

A spokesman for the conservancy department said the stretches between Bijon Setu and Ruby General Hospital and between Science City and Peerless Hospital had so far been outside the purview of the CMC’s door-to-door garbage collection service.

Not any longer. Kanti Ganguly, member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), said the new service will be introduced from the first week of April. As a result, many housing complexes in the area, like the Bengal Ambuja condoville, state housing projects and the Rail Vihar will be covered by this service.

Leader of the Opposition in the CMC and Trinamul Congress councillor Durga Mukherjee said the civic body should first streamline the service within the city before extending it to new areas.

According to a CMC team led by the chief engineer (conservancy), Arun Sarkar, which surveyed the new colonies on and around the E.M. Bypass on Wednesday afternoon, around 20,000 new families have settled in the area over the past three years.

Sarkar said the city generates 2,500 tonnes of garbage every day and only 45 per cent of the households have access to the door-to-door drive. Poor drainage and sewerage infrastructure in these areas, where monsoons have wreaked havoc in the past few years, have also compelled the CMC to introduce litter removal scheme.

CMC sources said faulty planning has led to haphazard construction and blocking of drainage canals like the Tollygunge Panchannagram channel and the Suti Canal. “Private garbage collectors in these new settlements often dump waste into nearby canals, choking them with non-bio-degradable refuse like plastic and polythene packets,” a CMC official said.    


 
 
SOREN TO STAKE CLAIM FOR VANANCHAL CM’S POST 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ranchi, March 23 
The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (Soren) has decided to stake its claim to the chief minister’s chair in the proposed Vananchal state.

Party sources said a meeting of the JMM central committee has been convened here on Saturday to decide on the party’s strategy in the wake of the JMM(S) joining the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre. Also on the agenda is a proposal to redraft the party’s constitution to grant more powers to the JMM(S) chief and other office-bearers.

In the run-up to the formation of a government in Bihar after the Assembly polls, the JMM(S) had initially staked claim to the Bihar chief minister’s chair in return for its crucial support to the NDA government. However, with the JMM formally joining the NDA, the party had withdrawn its claim.

JMM(S) sources said the central committee’s agenda for Saturday includes inter alia a thorough review of the party’s strategy in view of its formal admission into the NDA at the Centre and the BJP’s promise to carve out a separate Vananchal state during the current budget session of Parliament.

The sources said the JMM has served an ultimatum to the Centre to carve out a separate state for the 18 south Bihar districts before the conclusion of the current session of Parliament, failing which it has threatened to launch a total economic blockade of south Bihar including stoppage of outflow of all minerals from this region.

However, some NDA allies have expressed reservations over any further creation of smaller states. With the failure of the NDA to form the government in Bihar and the JMM(S) itself joining the NDA, the sources said the party needed to quickly formulate a comprehensive policy for itself with regard to its commitment towards separate statehood for south Bihar. The aim is to prevent both the Congress as well as the RJD from wresting any advantage on this account. The sources said Saturday’s meeting would also review the JMM(S) constitution, now nearly three decades old. The changes would grant more powers to the party chief to enable him to function more effectively.

The sources added that more powers are likely to be granted to the other office-bearers including the party vice-president and general secretary. Many of the curbs on the party’s important functionaries, which of late have been acting as impediments to taking speedy decisions, are also scheduled to be removed. The sources ruled out any alliance with either the JMM (Munda), a breakaway faction of the JMM(S), or any of the other Jharkhandi parties.    


 
 
MAN STABS INFANT SON IN TRIPURA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, March 23 
A man stabbed his four-year-old son to death last night while another person, who had poisoned his infant son, was granted bail yesterday.

Police sources said Rabindra Karmakar of Bvanga village in Kamalpur sub-division had gone to visit his relative Prahlad Das in nearby Maracherra village with his four-year-old son Biswajit yesterday. They stayed the night at Das’ place.

Around 11 pm, the inmates of the house woke up to Biswajit’s cries and broke into the room. They found Biswajit lying in a pool of blood. His throat was slit and his father was holding a blood-stained knife.

Karmakar was handed over to the police. Biswajit, who was taken to the Kamalpur hospital, was declared dead.

In another incident, Ramtanu Deb, who had poisoned his two-year-old son in Madhya Bhubanpara village on the western outskirts of the city, was granted bail by the chief judicial magistrate yesterday on grounds of ill health.

Police sources said Deb had strained relations with his wife Bela because of her alleged extra-marital affairs. He suspected the paternity of his two-year-old son Gopal and poisoned him to death on February 21. Later, Deb made an abortive bid to commit suicide and was admitted to the G.B. Hospital from where he was arrested on March 8. After being remanded in judicial custody for 14 days, he was granted bail yesterday.    


 
 
TRIPURA CAUGHT IN A TIME WARP 
 
 
FROM SEKHAR DATTA
 
Agartala, March 23 
The recovery of an unidentified woman’s torso from a remote village in Sabroom subdivision last month has sparked a fresh uproar over the prevalence of superstition-linked practices, including human sacrifice, in Tripura.

Believed to have been beheaded at the altar of “supernatural spirits”, the woman was seen interacting with two Noatia youth from the Srinagar area of Sabroom subdivision a few days before her body was found.

Police suspect the two youth — Satya Tripura and Prem Kumar Tripura — of committing the murder under the influence of mythical stories about a hidden treasure. According to investigating officer Ranjit Das, the two youth initially confessed to killing the woman, but retracted their statements in court.

The Noatias, who comprise the bulk of the population in the Srinagar area of Sabroom subdivision, have long believed that a nearby upland, called the “Mama- Bhagina Tilla”, hides a treasure.

Satya Tripura and Prem Kumar Tripura are suspected to have killed the woman to propitiate the spirits believed to be guarding the treasure.

The incident is not the only one of its kind to have taken place in Tripura. In 1997, a group of former militants abducted two tribal youth from the Pancharatan area of Gandacherra subdivision to behead them before an idol of goddess Kali.

However, the youth killed two of the militants and escaped.

In another incident, two tribal children disappeared under mysterious circumstances from the Jamircherra area of Dhalai district in 1998. The children are yet to be traced. Their parents believe they were killed in the name of human sacrifice.

The system of offering human sacrifice before beginning construction of roads, bridges and brick kilns is also prevalent in Tripura.

According to historian and numismatist Jahar Acharjee, Rajmala, which chronicles Tripura’s erstwhile Manikya dynasty, contains several references to human sacrifice.

Superstition and tradition also dictate the manner in which tribals in the interior areas of Tripura treat diseases.

Recently, a tribal woman from the Manughat area of North Tripura district was operated upon for a life-threatening 50-kg tumour she had been carrying in her womb for quite some time now.

The woman, Renuka Reang, had refused to see a doctor and relied solely on ojhas (sorcerers). The Jamatyas of Tripura, a book by Pradip Nath Bhattacharjee, states that impotent men and childless women of the tribe are looked down upon as people “deprived of the grace of god”.

Such people are also barred from social and religious functions.

However, not all tribals are so superstitious. The Mizos inhabiting the Jampui Hills on the northeastern fringes of Tripura have gradually given up performing superstitious rituals.

The process began with the spread of Christianity and education.    


 
 
HUNT ON TO TRACK DOWN JAIL ESCAPEES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Jamshedpur, March 23 
A combing operation is on to track down three notorious criminals who broke out of the Seraikella sub-divisional jail in adjoining West Singhbhum district on Tuesday.

Official sources said the prisoners — Konda Majhi, Karan Majhi and Bablu Murmu — scaled the walls in broad daylight and escaped without the jail authorities’ knowledge. The matter came to light during the usual roll call at the jail.

“All the concerned police stations have been put on alert and I have also asked the sub-divisional officer of Seraikella for a report on the jailbreak. The police is also conducting a series of raids to re-arrest the prisoners,” said deputy commissioner, West Singhbhum, Brajesh Mehrotra.    

 

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